Welcome to The Helpful Art Teacher, an interdisciplinary website linking visual arts to math, social studies, science and language arts.

Learning how to draw means learning to see. A good art lesson teaches us not only to create but to look at, think about and understand our world through art.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

What do artists look at when they create art? From Vermeer to Van Gogh

First let's look at the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, the REAL painter of light:

Who was Johannes Vermeer?

Click here to find out.

Click here to see more pictures of Vermeer's paintings

Click here for an interesting article about Vermeer and the Camera Obscura.

What is a camera obscura?
Watch this video for a demonstration

Do you use photographs to inspire your artwork? Most artists do. Vincent Van Gogh often copied the art work of his favorite artists to learn their techniques.

He often used poor quality reproductions because he did not have access to the original pictures.

In one famous painting,  First Steps, after Millet
Van Gogh only had a black and white image to copy.  Here is the image Van Gogh looked at:

The First Steps by Jean Millet

Van Gogh painted this picture as a present for his brother Theo and his wife. It was a special gift commemorating the birth of their first child. He deliberately chose tinted (mixed with white) soft colors because he wanted the picture to hang in the nursery.

Here is Van Gogh's picture:

Jean-Francois Millet was Van Gogh's favorite artist.

Next time you hear someone tell you not to copy, think about Vermeer and Van Gogh. Copying is one of the ways that artists learn...

You can find the letters that Vincent Van Gogh wrote describing this painting (and many others) by clicking here .

Having trouble finding it?

Hint: Theo and Jo Van Gogh, Vincent's brother and sister-in-law, had their son, Vincent Willem, on January 31, 1890.

 The artist may have been referring to 'First Steps After Millet' in this letter, dated Tuesday, 29 April 1890.

Van Gogh wrote to Theo about most of his paintings. Fortunately, he put the date on all of his letters and the year on all of his paintings. This makes it easier to match the art work with the writing.

You can use
 to find many letters where Van Gogh wrote about Millet,  Vermeer and other famous artists along with photographs of the specific paintings mentioned in his letters.
To visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, click here

Van Gogh loved to study and learn from master artists. He never felt bad for copying the works of those who came before him because he understood that copying was part of the learning process.

Could Van Gogh have been inspired by this painting by his favorite artist?

Van Gogh used what he learned to create many original works of art like  Starry Night

 and Cypresses.

If you are lucky enough to visit New York City, you can see 'Starry Night' at the Museum of Modern Art and 'Cypresses' and 'First Steps After Millet' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Artists today often employ digital technology as a creative tool, in much the same way that Vermeer may have used the Camera Obscura.

 When you use a digital camera or a computer program, like Adobe PhotoShop, you are taking the next important step in the development of modern art, much like the toddler in Van Gogh's famous painting.

Artistic styles change throughout time. The art of a specific period in history will always reflect the historical events and technological developments of it's age.

  When Van Gogh was a young man, modern printmaking processes made inexpensive prints, like Millet's 'The First Steps', widely available. Van Gogh was confined to a mental institution when he painted this picture. He could not visit a museum for inspiration but he was still able to ask his brother to send him art. This would have been impossible just a few decades earlier.

Click here to visit an excellent website with tips for how to use digital technology as a creative tool in your own artwork.

Below is a video that I made which explores how each artist sees the world differently. Four artists can look at the identical flower, yet each will create a 
completely unique painting. 

1 comment:

  1. Rad article! Thank you so much for your fantastic art education resources. I have used them many times over the years.